Piecework game development

As we found out a few hours ago in a blue post cited by MMO-C, Russell Brower is leaving Blizzard. RB has given us some of the most compelling, iconic music in the game, and I think WoW will be worse for his departure. In fact, the haunting, beautiful strains of zone music were one of the main reasons I was so drawn to this game in the beginning. It was a dark time in my life when I first began to play, and I can’t begin to count the number of evenings I would log on and just let myself be carried away by the music experience that seemed to enhance the entire fantasy world I was entering. It was one of the things that helped me through, and I hope RB understands the impact his work has had on many people.

I do not know why he is leaving, although it seems it was not his choice to do so. It may have ultimately come down to money, or artistic differences, or most likely some combination of factors. The one thing he said in his post that caught my attention was this:

With the success of a “sound de-centralization” initiative, my current position of overall Sr. Audio Director/Composer is no longer relevant and is being eliminated.

I honestly do not know what “a ‘sound de-centralization’ initiative”  is, but it sure smacks of “music by committee”. It seems to indicate Blizz is going the route of contracting out piecework for this aspect of the game, an approach that is undoubtedly cheaper in the long run than keeping musicians and composers on staff. If true — and I am just speculating — I think it has more downsides than upsides for the quality of the game going forward.

The main upside, of course, is cost saving. If you contract out piecework, corporate does not have to shell out all the administrative costs incurred by employing someone — from taxes to health care to 401K to office space to lost time because of office parties to employee-of-the-month overhead. It’s simpler, neater, and — as the Federal Government has long ago discovered — cheaper in the long run no matter how high the piecework costs may seem in the short term. There are other upsides, of course — for example there is no need to lay off people or do a hiring blitz when the workload contracts or expands — but it all comes down to cost savings in the end.

But the big downside I see is that WoW loses a sense of theme or identity. Piecework is just that — discrete work products bought and paid for. Need three widgets, go buy three widgets, plug them in and move on. Absent a strong theme manager — someone to enforce a whole-project vision — you end up with just a jumble of individual items. Each one may be high quality, but they are standalones, not part of a cohesive whole.

I see this as a thread in WoW development trends. I think about the wholesale changes to the hunter class since WoD, and what I see is class development by piecework. Need a weapon for BM hunters? Farm it out to the weapon development department. Need a class hall for them? Give it to the art department. Talents and abilities — give it to the sub-department that handles these things for all classes and specs. And what you end up with is exactly what we got at the start of Legion — a hunter class that had lost its soul, that was merely a collection of items that filled in boxes in some departmental matrix. No one was providing a central hunter vision, a picture of what “hunterness” should be.

In similar vein, I am seeing a trend towards piecemealing the next major Legion patch. No real sense of geographical continuity, just a bunch of disconnected scenario-like areas reached by magical portal, not by exploring and traveling there.

There may be other examples, but here’s my point: I see WoW moving to an assembly line type of production from a total craftsman one. It’s the difference between a Ford and a Duesenberg. Fords seem to be practical, serviceable vehicles, (when they are not being recalled), but somehow I feel like the world is diminished when theirs is the production model that emerged victorious. It was inevitable, it makes business sense, but still…

WoW, I feel, has become practical and serviceable. It’s not awful, and once in a while there are flashes of great quality. I don’t blame Blizz for moving in this direction, it makes perfect sense in terms of efficiency and flexibility, and in truth it may be the only viable way to maintain the WoW franchise. But I miss the Duesenberg it used to be.

Master craftsmen like Russell Brower become collateral damage.

With that, it is time for a weekend. I think I may go listen to some music.

A plea to Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas

WARNING: Entering rant zone. Please drive carefully.

Okay. Today’s rant topic is one I have covered before, but last night it just hit a tipping point for me. To put it as delicately and politely as I can:

BLIZZ, YOU HAVE ROYALLY FUCKED UP GEAR IN LEGION!

What pushed me over the edge last night was getting two pieces of nice 930 level gear that in one case was a 20-level upgrade and in the other was a 35-level upgrade to what I had equipped. Except they were not, in fact “upgrades”, since I am unable to equip them. Doing so would require me to break up my delicately-balanced tier19/tier20 combo, the result of which — according to the supercomputers we now have to use to evaluate gear values — would be a net decrease of approximately 40k dps.

It gets worse. I actually have a beautiful 6-piece set of tier20 gear, which in theory would allow me to run a sought-after 2pc/4pc combo. Nope, can’t do it, since once again that would result in a significant damage loss over keeping my 895-level 2 pieces of tier19.

It gets even worse. I have some very nice, highly-valued BM legendaries all of which I have upgraded to 970. But for the most part I cannot use them because doing so would mean insufficient slots for my required 6 pieces of tier19/tier20 gear. The only one of value that I can use is the BM belt, only because — thank the Old Gods — there are no tier pieces for that slot. This means I am pretty much stuck with using legendary wrists, Kil’jaeden’s Burning Wish, or Sephuz as my second piece. It turns out that Sephuz is the hands-down winner in terms of theoretical damage levels, KBW is a close second, and the wrists are quite a bit lower (plus I have never been lucky enough to snag the trinket that makes them really work, thus they are kind of “meh” for me). I tried Sephuz last night but found that the practical disruption to rotation necessary in order to maximize its procs was causing me to lose more dps than I could theoretically gain, so I switched to KBW and my damage immediately went up noticeably.

It gets still worse. Because of the huge role secondary stats play especially when they are intertwined with various talent builds and artifact relics, any new piece of gear must be evaluated not only for itself but for the pluses or minuses it brings to your current talent/relic setup. This means that you must consider changing your talents and relics in order to take advantage of a potential upgrade in gear.

For example, I run what Bendak calls a “Stomp” build for my BM hunter. This is a build that takes advantage of relatively high levels of crit — not normally a top stat for BM hunters, but it becomes significant if you are running the Stomp build. (I only happened to get a lot of crit because of the random nature of secondary stats, I did not set out to stack it on purpose.) But it is likely this build will be less powerful if I get a couple of pieces of gear with less crit, thus I need to evaluate them not only for the talents I am running, but for a possibly completely different talent build. In which case, other legendaries and/or tier combos might be significantly better.

It has gotten to the point where even the sophisticated simulations are of marginal value. I used to use a simple gear-evaluator (Pawn) addon based on optimal stat weights for your character. That is now useless, since it (by design) only compares gear for a single slot, not in combination with for example tier that gives bonuses. Thus, nearly every piece of gear in my bag is considered an upgrade, because of course a 930 cape is better by far than a 900 one. Except it is not, because the 900 one is part of a tier set.

Not only sim-based addons, but the simulation software itself is insufficient for most people in evaluating gear. This is because most people — even if they understand how to set up SimulationCraft on their own computers or plug in a set of gear and talents to one of the web sites — simply do not have enough time or expertise to methodically compare all the complex factors. Thus, the newest simulation helper is something called SimPermut, an addon that allows you to generate multiple combos of your gear and compare them. It also allows you to run talent and relic comparisons. What it does is generate a script that you can then use to run in Advanced mode on the website Raidbots.com. (If you want to get started, check out this IcyVeins tutorial — it is aimed at hunters but the technique can be used for any class.)

(Remember the days when you could just plant yourself in front of a target dummy and test out a couple variations of talents or gear? HAHAHAHA! We were so innocent then!)

See, here’s the thing:

WHY DO WE NEED A BANK OF HIGH POWERED COMPUTERS AND SOPHISTICATED VARIABLE SCRIPTS TO DECIDE IF A PIECE OF GEAR IS AN UPGRADE FOR US?

Come on, Blizz, pull your collective head out of your collective ass and look around! Really look at what you have done with gear in Legion and admit that this Rube Goldberg setup is just not sustainable. Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas is fond of lecturing us about what is and is not fun™ when it comes to gear, and one of his themes has been that when you get a new piece of gear you should be able to equip it immediately, not have to do that nasty reforging “math” or always have to have a gem or enchant for it. Well, guess what?

Getting a 30-level upgrade that makes your dps lower if you equip it is not fun™. Having to rearrange every piece of gear you are wearing just to accommodate a new piece is not fun™. Having to hang on to last-tier gear because Blizz fucked up the tier bonuses is not fun™. Having to run supercomputer simulations for every conceivable combination of gear/talents/relics is not fun™. 

Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas, I implore you, fix this gear mess!

Impossible odds and imbalance?

I am sure most of you already know, but Method successfully downed Kil’jaeden to claim Mythic World First for Tomb of Sargeras. They did it after 653 wipes, which follows their 400+ wipefest for Fallen Avatar. I don’t know the record for these kinds of things, but I am suspecting that over a thousand wipes for the last 2 bosses is in itself a World First title. Whether you think a pursuit like this is a good use of one’s time or not, you have to be a little bit in awe of the commitment and sheer stubbornness it takes to accomplish it. I am not a big fan of Method, but there is no doubt that hearty congratulations are in order.

So the number of wipes is pretty mind-boggling and causing not a few comments in the WoW blogosphere. The other thing causing comments is the composition of the 20-man Mythic team. Among some of the noteworthy items: 5 druids, 5 rogues, 3 hunters. Classes absent were mages, monks of any flavor, death knights, and demon hunters. Two of the druids were Balance spec, and all of the hunters were MM. The melee DPS consisted entirely of rogues and two warriors.

As you might suspect, there is a river of speculation as to The Future of The Game based solely on this one event. Much of it is overblown, of course, but I do think there are a few valuable insights we can derive from it — at least from the little we know of the actual tactics so far.

For one thing, it strikes me that 653 wipes is way more than these elite players need in order to learn a fight. We are talking about people who live and breathe this game, who have genius-level reaction times, who have almost uncanny “raid sense”, who have raided together so much that they know each other’s reactions as well as their own, and who have been preparing for this fight since at least the early PTR days of 7.2.5.

For a team like this to wipe 653 times tells me that the fight is essentially unwinnable, but that there is a small random chance every mechanic will work out to the team’s benefit. If the team can put together a flawless performance when that happens, they can beat the boss. It is not about being world-class good, it is about being world-class good every single time, so that when favorable RNG finally happens, the boss goes down.

This takes nothing away from Method — it is no small feat to achieve consistent performance perfection. But I do think it takes away from Blizz’s tier design, because it renders ludicrous the baseline assumption that raids allow players to progress as a character and as a team. To beat this boss, Method on average had to outgear the loot — average gear level over 933 for a raid that awards 930 level gear. And let’s be honest, any kind of team esprit or group learning occurred long before the ultimate win.

Eventually, Mythic ToS will be nerfed, and it will be attainable by non-World First kinds of guilds, the ones that are hard-core raiding guilds (think realm-first levels) but not necessarily the ones who dedicate their entire waking existence to it for weeks at a time. It might even be nerfed enough so that a few of the early bosses become beatable by guilds such as mine — after we greatly overgear it. I don’t know what that says about raid difficulty levels, but I think it is safe to say we have gone beyond the LFR-Normal-Heroic-Mythic model. It’s almost as if we now have two levels of the four-level model — one version early in a patch and another sinmpler version later in the patch. And it definitely says that Blizz is more concerned with hyping World-First competitions than it is with setting a difficult but attainable goal for regular raiding guilds. (They’ll fix that shortfall after they have milked the hype…) Also, possibly, that they have signed on to RNG as a viable raid mechanic.

As to the other notable aspect of Method’s victory — team composition — I am not sure what to make of it. We will learn more of the reasoning behind it once we can see a video, and as Method speaks more freely about it. I do not think it should be news to anyone that Blizz has completely abandoned the “Bring the player not the class” philosophy, nor should it come as a surprise that the current state of class imbalance has given us superstars and losers in the class/spec lottery.

What gives me pause is how much of this philosophy and actual state of affairs will filter down to the majority of raid teams, and what effect it might have on player perceptions of “winner” and “loser” classes/specs. Certainly guild teams such as mine that raid for fun not profit will remain largely unchanged, especially since they rarely run Mythic level and are thus not bound into a strict 20 players. I suppose some realm-first guilds may decide to reorganize their rosters, but that will not affect a lot of players.

We have seen backlashes before, mainly in pugs, when certain classes/specs are deemed inferior, even if the perceived inferiority is only for certain fights under certain circumstances. Such backlashes can result in unhappiness among players, and unhappy players tend to switch specs to be the flavor of the month, to just quit the game, or to gripe loudly in forums and other communications venues, demanding their now-unpopular class/spec be buffed enough to be “competitive”.

I expect to see an uptick in the number of Balance druids, rogues, and MM hunters in the next few weeks, simply as a result of Method’s raid roster for the KJ kill. It is not logical, but it almost certainly will happen. I also expect there to be some amount of unfair discrimination against a few classes for pugs — possibly some against non-bear tanks, mistweaver healers and tanks, maybe BM hunters. And some of the forums will undoubtedly light up with demands for buffs — pretty much the same forums as the classes omitted from Method’s roster. (There are already buffs in the works for some of these classes, so Blizz may get off easy on them.)

But I still think it way too early to make any sweeping inferences about class balance based just on Method’s team roster for this kill. It was a special circumstance, a fact that will almost certainly elude many people. On the other hand, I do think it is appropriate to think about the stunning number of wipes involved, and what that might say about Blizz’s current approach to raid development.

 

Housecleaning

Lately it has been challenging for me to come up with decent topics to write about in this blog. (Read the one from Wednesday and you will say something like “That’s for sure!”) We are pretty deep into summer game mode, I suppose — Patch 7.2.5 is old news, and 7.3 is months away. People are spending more of their leisure time in pursuits other than WoW, and I suspect a lot of Blizz devs are off on vacation or at least in a vacation mindset. This is a good thing, and I love summer, but it does make it tough to remain creative and thoughtful on a steady basis.

Thus, today I’ll do some housekeeping and clear out a few unrelated — and mostly undeveloped — topics that have been rattling around in my drafts folder.

Group finder for world quests/bosses. This is one of the best quality of life improvements Blizz has made in Legion, in my opinion. Except for the weekly world boss, I don’t often use it on my hunter because I can solo nearly everything, but I use it a lot on my alts, especially my squishier ones. I love that it is so easy, just hit a button on the quest tracker and you are good to go. The groups form quickly, do their thing, then disband immediately. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. The only improvement I might suggest is that there be a clearer labeling of PvP and PvE realms, but that is minor. Good job, Blizz.

Argus innovations. As a disclaimer, I have not yet logged on to the PTR, so honestly I am writing in complete ignorance, but when has that ever stopped me? I am hoping to log on sometime this weekend, but meanwhile, based entirely on 7.3 notes, I have a couple of questions.

  • Does the concept of portals put players into even more restrictive cattle-chute type play? Will it compartmentalize new areas in such a way as to preclude meaningful exploration and — Blizz’s favorite word — “immersion”? Are the Argus portals a precursor to the main mode of transportation in the next expansion?
  • Does the lack of flying on Argus portend anything more sinister for the future of flying, or is Argus just a Timeless Isle kind of zone?
  • Will the requirement to complete quest lines in order to unlock new portalled mini-zones become yet another endless grind, all in the name of “content”? Will those quest lines themselves become as onerous as the profession ones are now, especially for alts?

Will we ever be free of garrisons? In WoD, a significant number of players (at least the active ones) expressed hatred of garrisons, almost from the start. The backlash was strong, yet Blizz responded by doubling down on them as WoD progressed. They repeatedly lied to us about the role of garrisons, at first saying they would be completely optional, then saying everyone had to have one but only the basic level, then requiring an advanced level garrison in order to experience the new Tanaan Jungle content.

And then, given this very strongly expressed player dislike of garrisons, Blizz slightly repackaged them as class halls for Legion — pretty much removing the WoD perks and leaving the crap parts. Each patch has introduced extensions to them, and apparently there will be more such extensions in 7.3.

I would love to see an absolute end to this concept in the next expansion, but I am not hopeful. Someone at Blizz loves them, and I predict they will continue to be crammed down our throats. And, even though they appear to be the perfect technical mechanism for something like player housing or guild halls, Blizz will never bow to these popular requests. We will continue to have the worst of all worlds.

Monetization of WoW PvE. A few days ago Blizz announced a Mythic Dungeon Invitational. This is an open competition for teams to go through a series of gates to be able to compete publicly for prize money by achieving top speeds on a Mythic+ dungeon. Ultimately the winning team will receive $50,000, and other finalists will share lesser amounts of prize money. Oh, and of course the races will be covered on Twitch for esports fans to follow.

We’ve all known this kind of competition was coming, it was only a matter of time before Blizz tried to capitalize on more than the PvP aspects of WoW as a spectator sport. And honestly, the handwriting was on the wall when they introduced the whole Mythic+ idea in Legion.

I am not sure I have any strong feelings one way or another about this. I am not fundamentally opposed to the whole esports phenomenon — it’s not really so different from any other spectator sport when you come down to it. It holds zero interest for me, but I can see where others might enjoy it.

The part that gives me pause is how it might affect the game I love to play. I say this because of a conversation we had last night in raid. Someone picked up a really awesome piece of gear using a bonus roll, but they could not use it. Of course, since it had been a bonus roll, they could not offer it up to the others on the team who could absolutely have used it, and they expressed frustration about this seemingly arbitrary rule. The reason Blizz has given for this rule is that “some” teams might abuse it and require everyone to use up bonus rolls in order to gear up others.

The thing is, the only teams likely to engage in this kind of behavior are elite teams who gear up their rosters through the (somewhat gray area) method of split runs. No normal guild team engages in this kind of activity. So basically Blizz has implemented a rule that prevents abuse by less than 1% of the player base, and the other 99% are disadvantaged because of it.

This is the kind of thing I worry about happening more often as a result of expanding professional competition in the form of the game I play. People competing for real money will inevitably push the envelope as much as possible in that pursuit. Blizz’s response to such pushing has often been to apply a bandaid rule designed to prevent the specific perceived infraction, regardless of the consequences to the vast majority of players who would never even consider such action.

And with that, my drafts folder is clean, and it is time for the weekend to begin. See you on the other side of it.

Oh, and Happy Bastille Day.

 

Wild theory time

We are coming up on a year of Legion, so it might be a good time to stand back and take a look at it from a little more long-range perspective. And, since I am coming off a short break, indulge myself in some unfounded speculation.

So when I step back and look at Legion, the main question that comes to my mind is, where exactly are we in the expansion? At the start of Legion, then-assistant Game Director Hazzikostas stated that expansions starting with Legion would be 2-year expansions, and that the plan was for new raid tiers to be released every 4-5 months. If Blizz adheres to this plan (and so far it they have done so for the raid tiers), then we are about halfway through Legion and should expect the 7.3 raid tier not later than November and a 7.4 (final) tier around April 2018.

After that it all gets kind of iffy. In theory — sticking to the 2-year expansion model — we should get a fully-developed new expansion going live around September 1, 2018. This would mean a robust alpha/beta/whatever test would have been in place for several weeks by the same time the last raid tier is released, and a PTR should be available not later than June or July of next year.

I would like to believe this is what will happen, but I am extremely skeptical about it all. Blizz’s historical pattern (WoD was a slight but only slight anomaly) has been to announce significant project details of their next expansion at Blizzcon the year before implementation, initiate early invitation-only tests around January that continue for at least 4-6 months, then begin the PTR a couple of months prior to live.

This would mean Blizz should announce the next expansion at this year’s Blizzcon. Of course, they might do that, but we see absolutely zero indication of it — normally there are plausible rumors circulating about such topics shortly after tickets go out. Also, the timeline I described would mean Blizz would be working full bore on a new expansion at the same time as they are still cranking out major new raid tiers for the current one, and I have not seen evidence that they have the resources to carry out such a schedule. What we have witnessed for the last two expansions is that resources get moved to the new one at the expense of anything significantly new for the current one. I am not knocking this, it is just prudent business practice, but I think what it means is that we will not see anything public about the next expansion while Blizz continues to put out new Legion raid tiers.

What this could mean for players is that we will not hear anything official about the next expansion until after the last Legion tier is released. I don’t keep up with international gaming events, but Gamescom 2018 might be a venue that would fit that timeline. Which would mean announcement of the new expansion next summer. Since the typical public development part of a new expansion is about a year after initial announcement, that would mean in effect we would not see the next one until summer of 2019, making Legion in effect a 3-year not a 2-year expansion.

It all depends, I think, on the development resources Blizz has available from now until the end of Legion. But with the other franchises Blizzard is running, I just don’t see WoW getting the lion’s share of them — certainly not enough to go all out concurrently on new Legion tiers and the final stages of a new expansion.

This is all wild speculation, of course. I would love to be wrong, and to be able to welcome a new expansion in about a year. But I think Blizz has set Legion up to be  elastic in terms of longevity, so as to provide themselves with maximum flexibility on the next expansion. Look at the ways they have maintained current content, for example — ever-expanding artifact traits, use of the mythic+ mechanism, world quests, extending professions by adding on new quest lines that usually require older content such as dungeon completions, bringing back classic instances in challenging form, enticing play with things like class mounts, weekly bonus events, etc. They can keep iterating on these themes almost indefinitely.

Additionally, Blizz seems to have found a cheap technical way to add on mini-expansions, a way to give players the appearance of new worlds without the full overhead needed for actual new cohesive zones. The Argus model, with its portal system, seems to be a way to add on almost limitless new “zones” without the need for complex transportation systems or even artwork beyond the immediate ported area. Prohibiting flying in these new mini-areas further lessens the development cost.

As I said, this is all just speculation, I have no inside information about the timing of next expansion or even of the length of Legion. But it seems likely, given Blizz’s history along with their approach to content in Legion, that we will not see a new expansion until late summer/early fall of 2019. I think there is a slight possibility that we could get a next-expansion announcement very early next year — say in the first quarter — and Blizz might make use of the Argus model to fill in the rest of Legion while they work mainly on the new stuff. This might bump up 8.x by 6 months or so, making its live version appear in spring 2019 instead of late summer or fall.

But whatever, I think we are way less than halfway into Legion, and we have 18 months to two years left. Legion is not a bad expansion, and the possibility of two more years of it is not really horrible. Still, I hope I am proven wrong on this, and that by next year at this time we are eagerly anticipating the next expansion going live.

Gear. Again. Still.

After a decent clear of Tomb of Sargeras (N) last night, I ended up with a new 910 ring and was able to complete my T20 4-piece. We had a lot of fun, and while we did not one-shot every boss, we did not have any real trouble with them either. Everyone is looking forward to Thursday night heroic progression. By all measures, it was a great raid night.

So why do I feel so incredibly frustrated? One word: Gear.

I know I have written about this before, so feel free to skip this post if you do not want to hear it again, but I have a sincere, heartfelt message for Blizz:

GEAR IS TOO FUCKING COMPLICATED!

For example, the 910 ring I got was by rolling on it when the player it dropped for did not need it. I rolled on it only because it was 10 ilevels higher than one of my equipped rings. When I won the roll, I suddenly realized I had no idea if it really was an upgrade for me or not. It had the right stats, but my equipped 900 level had a gem slot. My Pawn addon indicated the new one was an 8% upgrade, but a) I had not run a new sim in a couple of weeks, and b) Pawn indicates that about 80% of the gear I have in my bags would be upgrades, too, then when I change it out, the changed out gear somehow turns out to be upgrades, too. I ended up taking the ring and equipping it, but does it make much difference in my damage ability? I don’t have a clue.

However, rolling on the ring — angst-laden as it was — was the easy part. Once raid was over, I began the process of deciding which mix of legendaries, T19, T20, and other gear would be optimal. The factors to consider:

  • Several respected theory crafters out there advise that, for BM hunters, a mix of T19 2-piece and T20 4-piece should be the goal.
  • Certain BM legendaries still are preferred over others, but only under certain circumstances, such as what trinket do you have equipped, what talent build do you have, how many adds are expected in a given fight, and of course would equipping a legendary destroy the recommended tier set combo.
  • I had three 970 legendaries and enough Withered Essence to upgrade one more. Two of my 970 legendaries were for what are now designated tier slots.
  • No matter what, I was going to have to run multiple new sims with varying equipment mixes and talent builds.

Remember when Blizz said the reason they removed so many gear gem slots was because they wanted you to be able to equip new gear in a raid as soon as you got it?

HAHAHAHAHA! Good times…….

(If you have a few minutes, take a look at this Ten Ton Hammer recap of dev gear comments from Blizzcon 2014 — almost the complete opposite of where we are now.)

I ended up running something like 8 sims before I verified for myself that the main difference was in the gear-talent relationships. For BM hunters, and I suspect for nearly every other class/spec out there, certain legendaries play better than others with your tier set bonuses and with your talent build. Or to put it another way, a legendary that looks like it gives you a cool bonus may not in fact do so if you do not have complementary talents and other gear.

After over an hour of weighing, simming, switching talents, studying options, etc., I came to the sad conclusion that — despite my having the four top rated (whatever the heck that means) BM legendaries, only one was viable and the other equipped one would have to be the generic (and in most lists bottom of the heap for BM hunters) Kil’jaeden’s Burning Wish. Any other legendary combos I could configure would destroy one or both of my tier sets. So I reluctantly equipped it along with my legendary belt, and in fact used my upgrade on it. But it did not make me happy.

The other thing that really hit home for me while I was going through this process is that even all the gear helpers out there — addons and web sites — seem to consider only ilevel and to a limited extent generic secondary stats when recommending gear for you. Gem slots seem not to come into play, nor do tier set bonuses in most cases, much less the whole package of talent build and gear interactions. It’s too complicated for computers to evaluate in any kind of timely fashion. But apparently Blizz expects players to be able to do this on their own.

Realistically, most of the gear combos you try will make only maybe a less than 5% difference in your damage/healing/tanking. But they can make a huge difference in play styles (remember the pre-7.2.5 BM hunter shoulders?) and in a few instances they can make a significant numbers difference. The thing is, you usually won’t know unless you go through the complicated evaluation drill I went through last night — simming various combos of talents and gear.

This ratcheting up of complexity is in fact one of the things I was afraid would happen when Blizz fist announced the idea of artifact weapons and their interconnection with spec talents and abilities. The mathematical permutations rapidly spin out of control. Add in the exponential factors of tier sets and legendary bonuses, along with the normal complications of secondary stats and enhancements like gem slots, and you end up where we are today — it is virtually impossible for the ordinary player to know with any degree of certainty whether a piece of gear is an upgrade for them or not.

Blizz, if anyone out there is reading this, for the love of all you hold holy, I implore you, in the next expansion:

GO BACK TO A SIMPLE GEAR MODEL, ONE WHERE YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE A Ph.D. IN MATH AND A BANK OF SUPERCOMPUTERS TO FIGURE OUT IF IT WILL BENEFIT YOU. 

Scattered thoughts on Friday’s dev AMA

After a very decent weekend, my head is not yet back into work mode, so all I can offer today is a bunch of scattered and unconnected thoughts. (Apologize in advance that these are not very coherent.) Friday there was a class design AMA on the WoW subreddit. If, like me, you did not follow it in real time, you can read it here. (Be warned that it goes on. And on. And on. And on. Possibly a tad bit more brevity enforcement by the moderators would have been beneficial. You can check out a Cliff’s Notes version at MMO-C here.) A few interesting tidbits:

There remains a lot of dissatisfaction with the MM hunter spec as it is currently set up.

Much of the expressed frustration dealt with the issue of pet vs petless, and the decision — at the 11th hour before Legion went live — to make Lone Wolf a talent (again). I do not play MM in Legion, but from what I could glean, a sizable number of MM hunters would like that entire talent row to be viable, rather than have LW be so vastly overpowered that there is really no choice. There is also a group that would like LW to be baseline, with the option to select a pet in a talent.

The other main track on MM hunters was on the Vulnerable mechanic.

There was also at least one plaintive cry for a perceived Blizz promise (I don’t ever recall one) to reinstate a ranged Survival play style within the MM spec. Nice to contemplate, but I do not see it happening.

Pets. Several people mentioned dissatisfaction with the “one size fits all” pet nerfing that occurred in 7.0. Gotta agree there — it just seems wrong to have all hunter pets be basically the same, the only real decision for pet selection coming down to a cosmetic/skin difference. The only exceptions are the battle rez/battle lust special pets, but those easy decisions really are a huge simplification of the kinds of pet abilities we used to be able to weigh. Later in the session, though, there was a hint that at least the devs understand hunter pets have been made a bit too bland:

We don’t have any solid plans currently [to adjust hunter pet utility], but I fully agree that we’re not in a great place right now. I would love to improve the situation. With the power of Battle Rez (Quilen) and Bloodlust (Core Hound), I don’t think I’ve used a different pet on my BM Hunter alt in PvE in a long time.

Many very good questions were simply ignored by the devs. Some I would have liked to have had answered (but weren’t) are:

  • Instead of a new class in the next expansion, is it possible we could see a lot of fourth specs, for example, a healing warlock, etc?
  • With the designs we are seeing Legion instances and raids, is multi-dotting obsolete?
  • Are there any plans to reinstate filler-type insta-casts for most ranged dps? Might such a move actually encourage more players to play ranged dps?
  • Why are warlocks limited to a pet-specific interrupt?
  • Will reforging ever make a comeback?
  • Any plans to fix the many remaining pet pathing issues for BM hunters?
  • Any plans to fix the really stinko Legion version of Stampede?
  • Any plans to give hunters more stable slots?

Some ominous dev comments:

We’d like to move into a direction where utility is more meaningful in all types of content, not even necessarily at the loss of performance. Players should be rewarded for making smart decisions that affect the success of their group as a whole, and we’d like to broaden that space.” To me, this is the current Blizz party line to return to a “Bring the class, not the player” approach.

I think BM Hunters aren’t far from being in a good place.” I think this means it is time for all BM hunters to press the panic button. Remember when the devs told us, before Legion, that “BM hunters are in a pretty good place now,” and then proceeded to completely rebuild the spec? Yeah, be afraid, BM hunters, be very afraid…

Anyway, I did think the AMA was interesting, though certainly devoid of any bombshell announcements. I was impressed with the detailed dev comments, when they chose to answer, and with the amount of time they took out of their day to participate. A little heavier hand on moderating might have resulted in more questions being answered.

Do yourselves a favor, though, read the MMO-C summary, don’t waste your time scrolling through the hundreds of pages of live comments.